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Post 20

Thursday, January 25, 2007 - 10:34pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Steve,

You say that the zero-sum picture is in error.  That's only partially true.  It's true that the two goals, both expanding the body of knowledge and retaining the purity of the core philosophy, are not incompatible and so there is no necessary zero-sum there.  Given these simple descriptions of the two approaches, it seems like both sides should be able to get along.

I think there's more complexity in the positions, though.  For instance, those in the close system approach (mostly ARI friendly people) may want to expand the philosophy, but they can't just open the door.  To maintain orthodoxy, while still allowing some innovation, there has to be some method by which the innovations can be discarded if they stray too far from the orthodoxy.  One solution is to create an authoritarian "government" of the philosophy, which has the power to decide what is and isn't part of the philosophy.  If they didn't care to innovate, they could preach a pure form of Objectivism by only referring to Rand's writings (or those sanctioned by her).  But by wanting to open the doors to some minor changes or improvement, they new an entirely new method of determining what is "pure".  They need a leader (or an organization) with the authority to speak for the philosophy.  That this parallels reality is probably not a coincidence.

A side-effect of this is that any innovation must be approved by the leadership.  Any independent research or innovations would challenge the methods by which they maintain the purity.  Anyone not in the organization is a threat to their ability to maintain the orthodoxy.  If people are allowed to decide for themselves, they can't guarantee the purity of the system.  It's because of the methodology that there is a zero-sum.  They can't accept the legitimacy of outsiders without compromising on their method of achieving purity.

In order to remove this zero-sum approach, their method of maintaining purity/orthodoxy would have to change.  They'd either have to modify their view of purity in lines with your "Randianism" idea, or have to take an approach of letting people make up their own minds and trying to win by the merits of their own ideas.

Obviously given this position of the orthodox branch, the open system people are in conflict with them.  Their legitimacy and connection to Objectivism are constantly under assault.  Their innovations, even if valid and true, are dismissed as a betrayal of the philosophy.

My point has been that "closed system" and "open system" are too abstract and broad, and that there are many possible methods of putting these into practice.  There probably are many approaches.  But if we're looking at the major trends, then we have to more explicitly identify the details of the approaches.  It's not enough to say that there are possible closed system approaches and open system approaches that are compatible or not zero-sum.  When looking at the actual implementations of these approaches, we have to judge whether they are.




Post 21

Friday, January 26, 2007 - 10:57amSanction this postReply
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Ed,

You ask, “What is it that is even more unquestionable than "hard science" is? I'll give you an admittedly-wily hint: It is that which got science off the ground in the first place.”

Darn, I never was any good at riddles. I give up. (I hate riddles because you’ll give me that answer and I’ll go, “I should have guessed that!” (Slapping myself in the head)

You asked, “…what sense (I) meant by Objectivism's ‘growing’." I did mean both of the elements you abstracted. You said, “… in the context that Objectivism is an objective value for all humans.” That speaks well to my vision for the spread of Objectivism. (Sometimes, If I had to name one thing as a reason for living longer it would be to see what happens – does everything collapse into an awful dark age that man has to once again climb out of? Does something like our image of Galt’s Gulch (the kind of social surroundings we should have) finally come into being?)

Where you said, “And, if you mean growth in the "social acceptance" sense (without change in the philosophy, per se), then it's the "open-system" folks losing out” – No, not necessarily. I would say, all else remaining equal, social acceptance by new comers would be some into the open system and some into the closed system. In other words the number of folks could, hypothetically, increase – and do so proportionally – and without any change in philosophy in either system. The other sense of growth – not people – but ideas and media – that too can increase in both systems. The nature of the open system means it is more likely to create, and not reject, more new views and new applications. But the closed system can be very vigorous in creating more ways to disseminate Rand’s works – as they have. I love the idea of the book of her margin notes. They can continue their pursuit of structures that mimic academia – with journals and seminars and other scholarly works. And adherents of the closed system can still create secondary works (fiction or popular non-fiction, or scholarly expositions) as long as they don’t violate whatever their closed system tenets are.

You asked if your reply was 100% on track – I’d say close, but I got a little confused in the ‘growth’ paragraph. Let me know if the two paragraphs above are what you were thinking.

I remember how irritated I was when a company I was working for started denying programmers hands-on access to the mainframe computer. It was a small but growing company and when I wanted to run a program I walked into the computer room and talked to the operator. If he didn’t have anything important running, I would run my program, get the results and head back to my cubicle. The company began putting more structure in place. For safety and to get more control over scheduling they required me, and everyone else to fill out a small slip of paper and leave the program at the data desk. They ran it and delivered the results. I was unhappy with the extra time and bother and what it did to my schedule.

I needed to see what was of value and necessary in their requirements before I could get over the irritation. I had to see higher values that the data department and I shared. And, what made it hard was that many of the restrictions were not needed, and not well implemented. But I wasn’t going to be effective in getting them changed while I made myself the irritated enemy. What I’m really trying to shift is the zero-sum attitude so that Objectivism’s spread is faster and we spend more time focusing more on achieving that as goal than fighting with each other. (Granted that some fighting is a normal part of the process).





Post 22

Friday, January 26, 2007 - 11:45amSanction this postReply
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Hi Steve,

What gets science off the ground in the first place is objective philosophy.

;-)

And good point about social acceptance leading to a relative equilibrium between open- and closed-systemizers.

In my view, however, the solution to your dilemma of how to combine the (open and closed) systems lies in personal soul-searching. Folks have to get psychologically mature enough to see diamonds in ruffs (instead of a blithe dismissal of all or most potential gems). When folks get better, Objectivism will (because folks are the beacons of Objectivism). What's needed is some willful, intellectually-honest introspection (about merits on both sides of the issue) -- that's all that's needed. An easier formula to write down than to implement, I'm sure.

;-)

Ed


(Edited by Ed Thompson on 1/26, 11:47am)




Post 23

Friday, January 26, 2007 - 12:14pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Joseph,

You understood what I was saying very well. I find myself still wanting to say that it is only a zero-sum game to the extent that it is held in people’s minds that way. That the reality does not require a zero-sum game view. But I take to heart your caution that this is a complex issue. I've been known to underestimate complexities before and you are closer to this issue than I.

I don’t feel a strong vested interest in some of the ideas that I’ve thrown out (zero-sum, ‘Randianism’, etc.). But I do feel a strong drive to find a way to diminish harmful tensions between the open and closed groups. My ideas are just ways of opening a new way of looking at the two groups. I know that some, maybe a lot, of what is going on is focusing on personalities and that in-fighting is part of different psychologies and part of social adjustment mechanisms. But I also suspect that you, like me, see those as secondary to finding the most rational, effective method of implementing Objectivism on a larger scale.

I agree completely with your assessment of the need for a closed system to have a hierarchical structure with a leader. The modern military values initiative, intelligence and strong drives – but it still is authoritarian and hierarchical and the limits and purposes come from the top down.

Now we come to the crux of the issue. You identified it. If that leader and his organization :
1) Don’t recognize the value of an open system,
2) Won't agree that it can exist outside of their authority, and
3) Believe open system adherents are enemies,
then that view, all by itself, creates a zero-sum situation.

Up to this point I imagine we are in agreement – let me know if that’s not the case.

You are saying that "closed system" and "open system" are too abstract and broad. And you mention a need to “explicitly identify the details of the approaches” – I don’t disagree. And I think I need to hear you say more on this - maybe some examples.

But, in the mean time, this is kind of what my approach looks like (forgive the stilted language):

1) Gain a shared agreement that we are all Objectivists in the most basic and important sense of the word. First here among friends then moving outside this group.
2) Gain agreement to explore and adopt approaches and grand views that permit us to retain our current individual and group status and our belief in a closed or open system while not seeing as much need to attack the other system's beliefs.
3) Gain agreement that much of the energy and time spent in attacks of one another - could be spent promoting or just enjoying Objectivism.
4) Gain a perspective for the values provided by the other group to diminish negative emotional reactions towards the other side.
5) Open dialogs to explore mechanisms and approaches and understandings that would make both groups more like different departments in the same company than warring enemies – only one of which will survive.

Sometimes the best argument is just drawing the straightest line you can between where you are and where you want to go. Then point at it and see if you have correctly identified the shared destination. Then you can start talking to people about how do be go about making this journey?




Post 24

Friday, January 26, 2007 - 12:31pmSanction this postReply
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Ed,

You mentioned that the, "...dilemma of how to combine the (open and closed) systems lies in personal soul-searching."

Absolutely true. And also true what you said about the issue of personal maturity.

We can't command or will another to raise their maturity or that they do significant amounts of soul searching - not as a practical answer to the dilemma under discussion.

What I see is not so much combining open and closed systems but rather to have them working side by sides as partners.

Psychology is a powerful barrier to that, but I'm convinced that it still leaves us lots of room for exploring shared goals and carving out separate areas to operate in and to see our common enemy in those that would censor Objectivism in academia where the young go to get their first serious taste of ideas.

Even if none of us can see an answer to making things perfect in this area, there must be ways to make it better!



Post 25

Friday, January 26, 2007 - 1:36pmSanction this postReply
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Steve,

Psychology is a powerful barrier to that, but I'm convinced that it still leaves us lots of room for exploring shared goals and carving out separate areas to operate in and to see our common enemy in those that would censor Objectivism in academia where the young go to get their first serious taste of ideas.
'Common enemies' serve as very powerful psychological unifiers among humans -- though that psychological aspect of reality is usually decried as being collectivist; which creates yet another Objectivist dilemma, or does it not?

Ed




Post 26

Friday, January 26, 2007 - 2:15pmSanction this postReply
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This all brings to mind that while man may be a being with a selfmade soul, the making of that soul is frought with an immense amount of 'nature' [outside pressures] that heavily influences his self-nurturing....



Post 27

Friday, January 26, 2007 - 2:29pmSanction this postReply
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Ed,

Yes, "Common enemies" is a manipulative trick employed by many. But right now Objectivists in one group are acting like Objectivists in the the other group are THE enemy. The difference in shifting the focus from other Objectivists to some of the tactics in academic philosophy. Tactics aimed at censoring any mention of Objectivism. That is not a trick of manipulation, but asking for a more rational assessment of the two areas and the approach to them.

The manipulation always entails a move like a magician's deception - drawing your attention away from the important area. I'm asking everyone to rationally examine both areas and decide which IS the important one.

The real Objectivist dilemma is to reconcile a belief that this philosophy should be given the best chance to spread with the actions of sapping the focus, the power and the energy of its advocates through internal squabbles.



Post 28

Friday, January 26, 2007 - 3:48pmSanction this postReply
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Steve,

I think we're in agreement.

As far as examples about identifying the details of the approaches, I think the example of the authoritarian system is concrete enough to make my point. While in theory the "closed system" approach isn't necessarily zero sum, as their primary goal is to maintain the purity of the philosophy, in practice this particular implementation is zero sum.

As far as your approach goes, it sounds good but notice how even that approach conflicts with the authoritarian approach. You start off by saying we're all Objectivists in the important sense, but they would reject it unless you accepted their hierarchy as the only authority.

My experience with the open system approach is a little better. They can usually see some merit in the other group's approach. And they recognize the fault is not in the goal, but in the approach.

The downside to the open system approach is that it attracts insane people with their own crackpot theories. I've seen people want to mix Objectivism with conservativism, christianity, buddhism, unitarianism, vegetarianism, altruism, etc., etc. We can resist those attempts by making rational arguments against them, but a significant number of "Objectivists" don't really have a good grasp of the philosophy, the resistance is more difficult. When someone makes a claim that Objectivism should be more altruistic (think about the children!!!), they find far too much support.

I think the open system works by having self-policing, rigorous and open debate, and a market where the best ideas will win. But when many "Objectivists" are inconsistent or willing to be swayed by their "common sense" (whatever they feel is right) or emotional arguments, the policing fails. You end up in a sea of people who pick and choose which ideas feel good to them. Needless to say, the philosophy can be wildly distorted, and those defending the core ideas can end up in the minority.

This is the key problem with the open system that I can see. It's not a necessary problem, but it exists because of the context. It's like a forum being overrun by rude people If you have enough good people, they can self-police. If not, the forum gets bad. Nothing inherent about the forum.

And this adds to the sense on the closed system side that the open system side is completely willing to abandon the core, and thus are not real Objectivists. If crazy Objectivists were a tiny minority, the value of the open system approach would work out better. Too bad.

Since I'm on the topic, there's another aspect to consider. The movement as a whole, vs. the individual. I think the open system approach is best for the individual, even with the crazies out there, since he's encouraged to think for himself and understand it. The closed system approach restricts that to varying degrees for reasons I've already mentioned. As far as the movement goes, the closed system does a better job of maintaining the purity of the philosophy and representing it. By having a dictatorship, they can enforce quality control. The open approach may do great work, but it can easily be lost in the noise from the crazies. In the orthodox camp, newcomers are encouraged to really learn the philosophy, since that's all there is. In the open system areas, people are anxious to add their own unique twists, often neglecting to really learn the basics. Closed system people may pride themselves on understanding the core ideas. Open system people may pride themselves and adding something new.

Obviously there are a lot of generalities in what I've said. Personally, I favor the open system. But I can see the merits in the closed system. They have the advantage of not having to spend any serious time defending the philosophy from their fellow Objectivists. If anyone has serious disagreements, they can just throw them out of their camp instead of repeatedly defending the ideas. They can spend more time focusing on the outside world.



Post 29

Friday, January 26, 2007 - 4:33pmSanction this postReply
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Joseph,

We are in agreement. I appreciate the detail you went into. At this point I haven't anything to add.

I'm going to keep trying to think of intellectual/psychological bridges between the systems.

I have no big interest or agenda here other than to see a way to bring more benevolence into an area where the differences don't seem easily resolvable.

I would only argue one more small point. If one were to envision a 'good' form of a closed system that was happy to coexist with open systems, that closed system would have to be in accord with the main tenets of Objectivism - which would mean that the hierachy would be legitamate and the authority would derive from whatever legal rights were morally confered on the leader by Rand. In that context I would refrain from using a word like 'dictator'. And because it is my interest to bridge the two groups, at least a little bit, I would try to find agreeable ways to tone down rhetoric. I hope that doesn't come across as too preachy.

At his point I'll set this topic aside for myself, while waiting for new, worthwile thoughts to arise and go back to reading from the archives.

I'll look forward to any future articles of yours on this or on benevolence in general.



Post 30

Saturday, January 27, 2007 - 9:17pmSanction this postReply
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The real Objectivist dilemma is to reconcile a belief that this philosophy should be given the best chance to spread with the actions of sapping the focus, the power and the energy of its advocates through internal squabbles.
Okay, Steve. As long as we still get to squabble "some." It's not just that squabbling can be fun, it's that squabbling with others -- if done in the right mindset -- is how we clean our closets (it helps us to personally grow and to remove, sometimes with needed friction, the rough edges we have been dragging around with ourselves).

;-)

Ed
[someone who is no stranger to heated debate, but is actually a better man from it]




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Post 31

Sunday, January 28, 2007 - 9:28amSanction this postReply
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Ed,

Agreed. More than once, it took a squabble to show me I didn't know what I was saying as well as I thought I had.

(And the right kind of squabble is more fun than ice cream on a hot day).



Post 32

Sunday, January 28, 2007 - 4:21pmSanction this postReply
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Nicely put, Steve.

;-)

Ed




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